The never ending story, latest instalment

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Return of the Zombie Planning Application

The Story So Far

In advance of the publication of its draft 2019 Local Development Plan (LDP), Inverclyde Council responded to a campaign by Kilmacolm Residents Association (and other community bodies) and removed from the proposed plan a greenbelt housing site on the edge of the village of Kilmacolm. This site (known snappily as “West of Quarry Drive” or WOQD) had been identified by the Council as a possible housing site in the Main Issues Report (MIR), but the Council was persuaded that, since there was already a healthy surplus of housing land in the Renfrewshire sub-Housing Market Area (in which Kilmacolm is situated), there was no need to add further capacity.

The Council’s position was challenged by the would-be developers of WOQD during the Examination of the proposed LDP but was upheld by the Reporter. The LDP was subsequently approved by Scottish Ministers and came into effect. Kilmacolm residents breathed a sigh of relief and got on with their lives.

The assumption that, having had a fair hearing at the Council and during the Examination, this green belt site was dead and buried, however, proved to be premature.

In June 2020, a group of developers including MacTaggart & Mickel Homes Ltd (would-be developer of WOQD) appealed to the Court of Session against Inverclyde Council’s decision to adopt the 2019 LDP. The Court found that the Reporter who had examined the LDP had erred in his assessment of the methodology used to calculate the adequacy of the housing land supply in a number of ways. The Examination Report contained material errors and so Chapter 7 of the LDP (dealing with housing) on which it was based was materially flawed and should be quashed.

The effect of the Court’s ruling was to leave Inverclyde Council without a housing land policy and, under the then current version of Scottish Planning Policy[1] this opened up a free-for-all environment in which it would be difficult for Inverclyde Council to refuse any planning application for housing development, however unwelcome.

And so it came to pass that WOQD became undead.

Now Read On

In October 2020 MacTaggart & Mickel submitted a planning application for approximately 78 houses on the WOQD site.

In the meantime, Inverclyde Council published an interim statement on housing land and published a Main Issues Report in anticipation of rapidly producing a new Local Development Plan to replace the one eviscerated by the Court of Session. In the MIR, Inverclyde Council purports to find that there is a shortage of housing land in “the Inverclyde part of the Renfrewshire sub-Housing Market Area”. This is a startling conclusion because the Council previously acknowledged that the supply situation should be considered across the Renfrewshire SHMA as a whole (where there is an undisputed surplus of housing land). On the strength of this volte-face, Inverclyde Council’s MIR then proposed several additional housing sites be added including WOQD.

In April 2021, the Inverclyde Council Planning Board considered the WOQD application. The Officers’ Report was quite clear that the application was contrary to the current Development Plan (even though Chapter 7 of the LDP had been quashed) but, notwithstanding this, recommended that the board recommend to the Council that the application be given consent. In a revealing summing-up, officers described the Council as being in “an invidious position” because, if the application were refused or not determined, by May 5th, the applicants would be likely to appeal to the Scottish Government. It was noted that WOQD was a proposed site in the emerging new LDP, and this was used as justification for approving the application despite the fact that the draft LDP had not then been published, never mind consulted on, examined or approved by Scottish Ministers.

Needless to say, Kilmacolm Residents are lobbying Councillors ahead of their meeting this week in the hope that the planning board’s recommendation to approve this application will be overturned. Of course, even if the Council does do the right thing and refuse the application this time, it will probably still refuse to die.

[1] Scottish Planning Policy has subsequently been amended in response partly to this case and partly to another case involving proposed green belt development in Inverclyde. The legality of these amendments is now being challenged by developers in the Court of Session!

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